17-year-old penal reform case over conditions at Mountjoy Prison dismissed

By Ann O'Loughlin

The High Court has dismissed a case initiated 17 years ago over conditions for inmates with psychiatric illnesses in Dublin's Mountjoy Prison.

The case was brought by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) and two former prisoners who claimed they were incarcerated in padded cells in breach of the constitutional rights.

It was against the Governor of Mountjoy, who at the time was John Lonergan, the Minister for Justice, and the State. Mr Lonergan, the court heard, has since retired and is now an advocate for the IPRT which is a non-governmental organisation campaigning to improve prison conditions.

The IPRT and one of the two former prisoners had agreed to an application by the State that the case should be struck out over delay and want of prosecution. The second prisoner, who was not seeking damages but just a declaration to say his rights were breached, wanted the case to continue.

Mr Justice Denis McDonald ruled there was inordinate an inexcuable delay in progressing the case. The balance of justice also favoured dismissal of the proceedings on the basis that undue prejudice would be caused to the defendants in trying to defend the claim at this stage.

Among the State's arguments for saying the case should be dismissed were that there had been a number of improvements for prisoners with mental illness as there had also been for the wider prison population. Among these were the building of a remand prisoner only jail in Cloverhill, Clondalkin, Dublin.

The court heard that in 2005, on application by the State, the High Court dealt with a preliminary issue over whether the IPRT had legal standing (locus standii) to bring the case.

The High Court found for the IPRT but, in 2008, the Supreme Court, while dismissing the appeal, set aside the High Court ruling that the IPRT had legal standing.

Mr Justice McDonald said that between 2009, when there was a case management hearing, there was no further movement until the State brought its dismissal for want of prosecution application last year.

While an explanation had been given by the solicitor for the IPRT for the delay, he did not believe that anything he (solicitor) said could excuse the delay.

The judge was told there was no application for costs by the State against the plaintiffs.

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